At only 12% of the current law enforcement workforce, per the Department of Justice, women remain a minority in the profession, but personal stories show how attitudes have changed. This summer, MetroWest Daily News asked three Massachusetts female law enforcement professionals to share their experiences and thoughts on how interactions with male cops and superiors have evolved, and how policing benefits from women entering the profession.
For the first 10 years of Lieutenant Cara Rossi’s career with the Natick Police Department, starting in 1994, she was the only woman on shift. Although the circumstances sometimes created a lonely environment, she says most interactions with peers were professional.
“It was a mixed bag,” she told the news organization. “Most of the officers we worked with out on the streets were great, but the public wasn’t used to seeing us. The older crowd had a problem with us because they had never seen women like us before. I did have to express to sergeants at times about things that were not acceptable to me.”
Detective Ciara Maguire joined the Holliston Police
Department around the same time, and admits some of her male counterparts displayed hesitation or doubt about her skills even though they never verbalized or demonstrated outright hostility. Of course, not everyone was a skeptic.
“A lot of the officers were just happy to have another motivated person on the force, and that outweighed those who may have been skeptical about having a female join the department. I was just motivated and happy to be working as a police officer. I never felt like I had to be better than the men. I just felt I had to do a really good job for the community I served,” she said.
Lieutenant Rachel Mickens of the Framingham Police Department began her career as a cop in 2007 — nearly 15 years later than Rossi and Maguire — after being inspired by a female DARE officer while still in school.
“Obviously, seeing a woman in uniform was pretty cool. It stood out to me,” she explained.
“I think I was lucky
because those women who started in the ’80s and ’90s really paved the way for women like me in the mid-2000s,” Mickens added. “You still run into people here or there who will give you a hard time, but I think society is more accepting of it now.”
All three women agree the public engages with female officers differently than with men, which can work to their advantage. Rossi recalled an incident in the early days on the job where her supervisor ordered her to address a man barricaded in his home and threatening violence.
“I started speaking to him and he came right out,” she remembered. “Women tend to be better with communication skills. There’s less use of force, because women are better communicators and males feel less of a need to resist for ego reasons.”
According to research by the 30×30 Initiative, part of the New York University Policing Project, female officers are less likely to engage in excessive force, fire their duty weapons or have citizen complaints lodged against them. What’s more, data suggests women conduct more positive interactions with diverse cultural groups.
“I’m nearing the end of my career and I’m just trying to leave the field better than it was when I first started,” Rossi said.